OBJECT
STORIES

An online collection presenting iconic design objects, fashion design and interiors from films selected by curators, artists, designers and filmmakers. Object Stories will be released gradually throughout the duration of the events programme.

Mexico 66 Shoe
by Onitsuka Tiger

Kill Bill Volume 1 (2003), Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Nominated by Riya Patel

Design writer / Curator of The Aram Gallery

© Miramax Pictures

In Tarantino’s martial arts homage, Uma Thurman’s wronged bride goes to fight the assassin O-Ren-Ishii wearing a two-piece yellow and black tracksuit and matching running shoes. It’s widely known as a reference to Bruce Lee’s look in Game of Death, and the shoe he was often seen wearing: the Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66.

Whether Lee actually wore the two together is a mystery. And it’s perhaps based on a half-memory that Tarantino chose this footwear for his ruthless femme fatale. Nevertheless, Kill Bill gave us a new film-design icon in featuring the Mexico 66: Thurman’s were a special edition with “Fuck U” moulded into the rubber sole.

This head-to-toe costume of unapologetic bright yellow, licked by dynamic black stripes, has one foot in reality and the other comic book fantasy. Hers is not the look of a superhero, nor something you could conceivably wear yourself. But the shoe? That little bit of iconography is attainable. Here is a heroine doing unspeakable things in accessible footwear. In the early 2000s, the Tiger brand was revived, thanks in no small part to the popularity of the film.

The Kitchen
(Before Service)

Big Night (1996), Directed by Campbell Scott & Stanley Tucci

Nominated by Inês Neto dos Santos

Multi-disciplinary artist www.ines-ns.com

There is something special about the kitchen in Big Night. It’s a little too much like a home kitchen, awkwardly spaced, not enough work surfaces. Regardless, or precisely because of this, it is a kitchen I dream of cooking in: the oven and stove placed right in the center, ladles and copper pots hanging from above, a big wheel of Parmigiano staring at you as you cook. Green beans spilling out of crates and bowls, herbs overflowing. The space has a particular aura in this precise moment, pre-service; the calm before the storm. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you’ll know this is a rare treat: the prep frenzy behind you, condiments lay orderly placed in little bowls within pinching reach, trays ready to go in the oven, hot water simmering, sauces ready and fragrant. A few minutes separate you from the whirlwind of service, as you sit down to slurp a warm (and filling, if you’re lucky) staff meal. This kitchen is quite perfect, even more so when suspended in this in-between moment of stillness and anticipation.

Saul Bass:
Title Sequence for Casino

Casino (1995), Directed by Martin Scorsese

Nominated by Donna Loveday

Design curator, writer and course leader for MA Curating Contemporary Design

Saul Bass created some of the most enduring graphic images in design and cinema. The film titles he created for directors Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger and Stanley Kubrick in the 1950s and 60s, and later for Martin Scorsese, transformed a banal medium into an art form. Before Bass, film titles showing a list of cast and crew were projected onto cinema curtains which were only drawn when the action began. Bass turned them into visual spectacles. His final title sequence for Scorsese’s 1995 film, Casino, was one of his most remarkable works. Dante’s descent into hell was the inspiration for the opening sequence of the film. Saul and Elaine Bass later commented; “we attempted to create a metaphor for the Las Vegas of betrayal, twisted morality, greed, hubris, and in the end, self-destruction.” Set against the soundtrack of St Matthew’s Passion, the corpse of the lead actor, Robert De Niro, is seen falling against the neon lights of Las Vegas using an intricate combination of film processes that included overcranking, enlarging, superimposing and dissolving onto new material shot in Las Vegas and unused footage of the city from the 1960s.

In 2004 I curated an exhibition; Saul Bass for the Design Museum. I chose this title sequence to close the exhibition. Projected floor to ceiling, it was accompanied by a statement written for the exhibition by Scorsese; “In collaboration with his wife Elaine, the introductory sequences he created for my films were five masterpieces of the form. Each sequence embodied the mysteries of those films, but somehow never gave away their secrets….I’m moved when I remember their passion, their exquisite artistry, and the depth of their understanding.”

Full film title can be viewed here

Space Station 5
Interior

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Nominated by Deyan Sudjic

Writer

© Warner Bros

Stanley Kubrick created a complete, imagined world in every film he made. With the exception of the first two big productions, Paths of Glory and Spartacus that involved location shooting in Germany and Spain, they were made as close to Kubrick’s Hertfordshire home in England as possible. The Overlook Hotel in the Rockies, from The Shining, the urban battlefields of Hue from Full Metal Jacket were meticulously recreated in and around London.

Kubrick was particularly good at imagining a plausible near future. Look at Alex’s bedroom in Clockwork Orange and you will see Ettore Sottsass’s Valentine typewriter. Kubrick’s rare mix of imagination and rigour came together most powerfully in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was made in 1968, but even then Kubrick was aware that the future of computing was much more likely to be the iPad like screens that you can see on Discovery One, than the concepts that Elliot Noyes’s team at IBM, who consulted on the film, came up. Kubrick flatly rejected their idea of a giant machine that could accommodate a crew of seven.

When the Design Museum staged its Kubrick exhibition, we recreated the Space Station 5 interior with Olivier Morgue’s famous Djinn chairs. Morgue himself came to see the show, and told us that he had offered to design the whole interior. Kubrick used Knoll tables and the Herman Miller made Action Office by George Nelson, alongside convincing branding – Pan Am on the shuttle, Hilton, Bell and Howard Johnson inside. It was an image of the future that spilled out into the real world beyond the cinema.


Interiors

Safe (1995), Written and directed by Todd Haynes

Nominated by Elizabeth Glickfeld

Design writer / Co-founder, Dirty Furniture

© Sony Pictures

Carol White (played by Julianne Moore) is ‘allergic to the 20th century.’ In Todd Haynes’s 1995 film Safe, the cocktail of nail lacquer, exhaust fumes, aerosol sprays, dry-cleaning fluid and diet cola that swirl around her late-1980s existence, makes her retch, faint, vomit, hyperventilate and bleed from the nose. The film traces her retreat from her pristine Southern Californian suburban home to a porcelain-lined igloo at a groupthink facility in the Albuquerque desert.

As she searches for the cause of her malaise, it is the film’s interiors – and Carol’s place in them – that convey her alienation. Her home is a model of 1980s tastefulness: postmodern-inspired floor lamps, art-deco faceted mirrors, glass-topped tables, brass trimmings, silver-plated photo frames, and two tubular steel Wassily chairs by Marcel Breuer, coordinate perfectly in shades of chlorinated apricot and pastel teal. Usually pictured from afar, Carol drifts among these objects, with her matching pale outfits and auburn complexion, somehow less substantial than a coffee-table trinket.

Only at the end of the film do we see Carol close up. Now needing the aid of an oxygen tank and the safety of an igloo, she has been prescribed a remedy of self-affirmation. She looks in the mirror and says ‘I love you.’ The monastic bed, the unbleached cotton and the sanitised floor cast doubt on the declaration.

Made in 1995 but set in 1987, Haynes intended Safe as a fable about the AIDS epidemic. Twenty-five years later, as we retreat from a pandemic, the film is eerily prescient. The Trumpian moment (that other 1980s throwback), the ensuing cognitive dissonance around our relationship with the environment, the crystallisation of the wellness industry, even the vogue for decluttering as a form of self-help, are just some of the things that make Carol’s transition from her flimsy 1980s materialism to a debased Muji minimalism even more potent today.

Apartment
Interior

The Souvenir (2019), Written and Directed by Joanna Hogg. Production designer, Stephane Collone

Nominated by Johanna Agerman Ross

Curator, V&A / Founder, Disegno

© A24 Films

The London apartment of the well heeled film student Julie is a silent protagonist in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. The partly autobiographical film is a trance-like coming-of-age drama, following Julie as she starts film school and falls in love with the older and enigmatic Anthony.

The apartment and the objects housed within it underlines the film’s narrative as Julie explores her own identity. The furniture is re-arranged in each scene, new items appear without introduction, others disappear without trace. Early on in the film Julie’s mother barges into the apartment (which is also the family’s London pied a terre), with a “shopping headache” holding a frumpy lamp with a fringed shade. “You never have enough light in here”, she says in an act that is at the same time caring and imposing. Julie doesn’t resist the offer, but is visibly uncomfortable with the intrusion.

As the influence of family and film studies are transposed by the influence of Anthony, the pragmatic (a trestle table designed by Achille Castiglioni) is replaced by the flamboyant (a gold rococo bed and a Murano chandelier). Because while the apartment and how it is arranged becomes a mode of self expression for the quiet and shy Julie, its altered look is also a symbol of Anthony’s increased hold on her life. The objects are both the consequences of and the clues to this change. While the darker aspects of the relationship happen out of frame, the signs of them are increasingly present, such as a broken mirror tile in the living room appearing towards the end of the film.

The apartment is in fact based on Hogg’s own flat from the 1980s. Carefully reconstructed by production designer Stephane Collone and based on Hogg’s memory of the place, it might be seen to refer to the memento of the film’s title.


Banknotes​

Mélodie en sous-sol (The Big Snatch / Any Number Can Win) (1963), Directed by Henri Verneuil

Nominated by Diane Gabrysiak

Head of Programming and Exhibition at Institut Français / Ciné Lumière, London

Melodie is an extremely stylised black and white gangster film in which Charles (Jean Gabin) plans a ‘last’ heist at the Palm Beach Casino in Cannes with the young star Alain Delon as Francis, an unreliable ex-con, executing it.

Money is omnipresent as fantasised wealth and yet, for the protagonists, money is an object of desire as currency, as banknotes, in their materiality, weight and volume. Banknotes rest upon the shelves of the Casino safe, ready to be taken, and yet, from the moment they appear, they signify the downfall of the characters who so much lurk after them. Banknotes are rectangles of paper that both indicate value, here, as 100 and 500 new francs notes guaranteed by the Banque de France, while intrinsically valueless as paper. They are objects of everyday life, practical, solid, that also have to be difficult to forge to create belief, as seen here through the complex design and engraving of Napoleon (100NF) and Molière (500NF) alongside French monuments, names of institutions and numbers. The last sequence, only accompanied by music, emphasises this paradox, with banknotes slowly emerging out of the two bags towards the surface of the swimming pool while the characters gaze at it and at their own downfall helplessly, underlining the image of money as a fetish, invested with superpowers, a dream never to be reached and taking the form of a swimming pool surface now covered with useless banknotes escaped from two large leather bags.

Last sequence of the film can be viewed here

Tennis Racket
Colander

The Apartment (1960), Directed by Billy Wilder

Nominated by Tom Wilson

Head of Collections at the Design Museum, London

© Metro-Goldwyn Meyer

In Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960), insurance accountant CC ‘Bud’ Baxter (Jack Lemmon) cooks spaghetti for dinner with elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Bud is excited to be with her and sings as he cooks. However, as a bachelor, he doesn’t own a colander. Undeterred, he uses a tennis racket to strain the spaghetti. Fran pops her head round the door and exclaims, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good with that racket!’ To which Bud responds, ‘You should see my backhand. Wait ‘til you see me serve the meatballs!’.

It’s a wonderful scene, which stands out in an otherwise surprisingly dark film that bills itself as a romantic comedy. Both Bud and Fran are beaten down by the world. He’s a lonely bottom-rung worker in an office that is a triumph of capitalist indifference, with rows and rows of identical desks under chilly lights. She’s resigned to always being treated badly by powerful men. However, Bud’s inspired improvisation with the tennis racket seems to sum up something of the film’s hopeful celebration of two fundamentally kind people finding one another; there’s something so warm, uplifting and human about his lack of conformity in a cold, ruthless world.

Panasonic RC-6025
Clock Radio

Groundhog Day (1993), Directed by Harold Ramis

Nominated by Tom Wilson

Head of Collections at the Design Museum, London

© Columbia Pictures

On 2 February, Phil Connors (Bill Murray) wakes up only to realise that it’s Groundhog Day all over again. And how does he know? Because, without fail, he’s woken at precisely 6 a.m. by a Panasonic RC-6025 clock radio playing ‘I Got You Babe’ by Sonny and Cher, followed by a pair of radio announcers who always say:

RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Okay, campers, rise and shine!

As the film progresses, the clock radio becomes a relentlessly cheerful siren that endlessly reminds Phil of his failure to escape his personal purgatory. The sense of Phil’s existential nightmare is emphasised by director Harold Ramis’ close-ups of the split-flap display; at one point he makes the numbers look huge, flipping over in slow-motion with a huge, reverberating thud.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Ramis chose the flip clock as Phil’s tormentor. Invented by Italian self-taught engineer Remigio Solari in 1956, the split-flap information system became an industry standard in rail and air terminals worldwide, displaying arrival and departure times with unerring precision. It’s hard to imagine a more potent symbol of regimented time. Maybe that’s why we cheer Phil on as he finds increasingly brutal ways of destroying the clock radio – because we all, too, fear being trapped in our day-to-day existence.

Calvin Klein
Underwear

Back To The Future (1985), Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Nominated by Tom Wilson

Head of Collections at the Design Museum, London

© Universal Pictures

One of the funniest moments in Back to the Future comes when an unconscious Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) ends up in his teenage mother’s bedroom in 1955. When he wakes up, she calls him Calvin, much to his confusion:

Marty: Calvin? Wh… Why do you keep calling me Calvin?

Lorraine: Well, that’s your name, isn’t it? Calvin Klein? It’s written all over your underwear.

Lorraine’s response is funny not because it’s wrong, but because it’s so perfectly reasonable. It’s such a well-judged observation that there’s no easy way for Marty to explain. Why else would he have another man’s name on his underwear?

It is this gentle cultural dissonance that makes Back to the Future so enjoyable to watch. Much of the film’s humour comes from the observed differences between 1955 and 1985, such as Marty’s futile attempts to order sugar-free Pepsi, or the bewilderment of the Hill Valley residents as he tries to teach them rock ‘n’ roll. Essentially, Back to the Future reminds us that culture – of which objects and brands play an important part – lies at the heart of how we relate to one another. Almost as if to demonstrate this, the film-makers tailored Lorraine’s line for different cultural regions. In the film’s Spanish-language version, Marty’s alias is Levi Strauss. In French, he goes by Pierre Cardin. In each case, the joke still works, because the real absurdity lies in the way in which Marty’s generation (and, by extension, the film-watching audience) places such importance on brand names.